(Re)Marriage Vows

I’m getting (re-)married next week, and I’ve been looking for inspiration in the vow department.  When I was a pastor, I virtually disallowed couples to use self-written vows in ceremonies that I was officiating.  The reason: they were entering into a covenant that has been entered into billions of times by billions of people.  They weren’t making this up — singing solo — but were instead joining a chorus of people who’d done this before.  Further, a recitation of traditional vows gave every married person in the congregation the chance to squeeze their spouse’s hand and, in a way, renew their own vows.

But as a divorced person, I cannot avoid the fact that, though I truly meant “until death do us part” back in 1997, by 2008 that commitment had unraveled.  So I, and other divorced persons, are left with a quandary:

  1. Re-enter the institution of marriage using the same vows, knowing that it didn’t work out last time, but vowing that it will this time. Or,
  2. Come up with new vows, but without hedging your bets about whether it will work out this time.

I’ve been poking around the internet, looking for something that will get my attention, something that someone else has written that seems to be relatively traditional, yet nod to the fact that anyone who is remarrying after divorce isn’t exactly traditional.  A few, of course, are rejected out-of-hand:

Male
_____, we read in Genesis, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife,” and in Proverbs “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing.” He has ordained that the husband be the head of the wife. He instructs me, as the one who will be your husband, to love you as Christ loves the Church. It is my desire and delight to follow this scriptural teaching. With all my heart, I make this pledge to you.

Female
______, the Lord instructs me as the one who will be your wife to submit to you as unto Him. Our Father created woman to be man’s helper. It is my desire and delight to follow this scriptural teaching. With all my heart I make this pledge to you.

Others make me throw up a little in my mouth:

I am proud to marry you this day, (Name). I promise to wipe away your tears with my laughter, and your pain with my caring and my compassion. We will wipe out the old canvases of our lives, and let [God, with His amazing artistic talent], fill them with new color, harmony and beauty. I give myself to you completely, and I promise to love you always, from this day forth.

I’ve decided that I will write our vows myself.  I risk the cheese-factor, but I will do all in my power to avoid that.  And I will keep in mind what I learned years ago, when I read JL Austin’s brilliant book: Vows are performative utterances; they are words that do things.

  • http://www.emergingyouth.com Dan Haugh

    Tony,
    as you know, I too was divorced (as a pastor) and got remarried (while still in ministry and at the same church). We chose to write our own vows for the same reasons as you indicated and it was a wonderful expression of our own feelings, hopes, dreams, etc…
    I am very happy and excited for you to begin afresh and start this new journey.

  • http://www.heatherlynmusic.com heatherlyn

    Tony, you and your fiance are lovely and I’m thrilled for you. I so appreciate your authentic reflection on the life journey and how that’s shaped your perspective on this and all the intention you’re putting around those ‘performative utterances’. You both will undoubtedly share truly beautiful vows and a profoundly beautiful life together. Cheers!

  • Chris

    Tony- I faced this same challenge when I remarried a little under a year ago. You articulate some of the exact same struggles I faced. My (now) wife and I worked together on the ceremony until we finally had something with which we were comfortable and felt appropriate. Personally, it was also important to us to include an aspect in the ceremony that acknowledged my daughter and how life would be changing some for her as well (no vows for her obviously, but we chose to include some words to and for her and give her a symbolic necklace in the ceremony). Blessings on you and your new beginnings.

  • Stephen Hood

    Wow. Your post sent me to The Book of Common Prayer to review the promises and vows in the marriage rite used by my tribe. My initial response to your problem is to suggest that your initial marriage didn’t fail because of the promises and vows that you made at the time. The promises and vows are a high burden, but I can’t imagine entering into a marriage (even a second one) without risking the chance of failure. The vows are too important. Otherwise, why get married at all? The fact that you weren’t able to maintain the promises and vows you made the first time shouldn’t void the opportunity you have to keep them the second time.

  • http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47 Keith DR

    Judging from how you put option 2, I take it the problem with option 1 is not that it doesn’t hedge. I’m guessing the problem with 1 is that it vows without hedging — while ignoring that you’ve tried this before? So what you’re looking for is an unhedging commitment that acknowledges the past attempt, or at least that fits comfortably with the fact that this is a second attempt? Sounds like this could be a good opportunity to affirm hope, resolve, and commitment in a context of fallibility, uncertainty & dependence.

  • http://perpetualadaptation.blogspot.com Steve Swope

    Tony, I too am a divorced and remarried clergyperson. As I suspect you and others did, I grieved what I felt was the necessity of breaking vows I had willingly and hopefully taken; in fact, that was probably the toughest part of coming to the divorce-decision for me.

    Nevertheless, I was glad to use traditional vows the second time around. They became a sign of forgiveness and grace, and an invitation from God and Christ’s Community to pick myself up and try again.

    I would ask, by not using traditional vows, are you somehow hedging on your full commitment to each other? Or, are you not trusting enough in God’s forgiveness and offer of another chance to live faithfully, so that you feel you need to promise something else this time?

    The fault, dear Tony, is not in our vows but in ourselves. And the glory and wonder is that God redeems all that, us included, and invites us to try, try again.

    Oscar Wilde called second marriages “the triumph of hope over experience.” I urge you to embrace fully the hope that you can fulfill these vows, and the promise of grace to try.

  • http://www.arnizachariassen.com/ithinkibelieve Arni Zachariassen

    Sorry, Tony, I have no advice. Just want to congratulate you and the (future) missus. Really happy for you both!

  • James

    Whatever you choose, it will be special to you and your wife. Congrats on the new chapter in your life that is about to start.

  • http://cantleaveunsaid.wordpress.com Dave Buerstetta

    Tony,
    As you may recall, I’m another divorced and remarried pastory type.
    We used a kind of hybrid form for our vows: taking the best parts of a couple of the vow ideas I hand out to couples when I’m officiating. So certainly not full-on traditional, but not completely made up either.

    I honestly never thought of the ‘singing solo’ angle – I always thought of the vows as the most intimate part of the worship and that they should be an honest expression of what the couple promise each other.

    You and Courtney seem terrific together. God is reflected in your love for each other and will be honored by the commitment you make to each other, however you end up wording it. Even if it contains a little cheese! ;p

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us. Blessings and peace to you both!

  • Nick

    I know you weren’t asking, but… my wife and I wrote our own vows with our pastor, and I do think they’re pretty awesome.

    Groom
    ____, I promise to be your faithful husband. I promise to love you and to cherish you above everyone and everything else. I promise to honor you and respect you, to seek your best interests above my own. I promise to care for you and provide for you. I promise to do all these things in sickness and in health, in the good times and the bad, in sorrow and in joy, as long as the breath of our God, Yahweh, fills our lungs. And I promise to rely on the resurrecting Spirit of our Messiah, Jesus, to give me the ability to uphold this vow to you.

    Bride
    ____, I promise to be your faithful wife. I promise to love you and to respect you above everyone and everything else. I promise to honor you and respect you, to seek your best interests above my own. I promise to care for you and provide for you. I promise to do all these things in sickness and in health, in the good times and the bad, in sorrow and in joy, as long as the breath of our God, Yahweh, fills our lungs. And I promise to rely on the resurrecting Spirit of our Messiah, Jesus, to give me the ability to uphold this vow to you.

    When you write yours are you going to share them here, because I’d love to see that.

  • Sarah E

    Have been thinking of you two this week,and especially in my evening prayers last night when I couldn’t sleep – praying God’s blessings on this weekend and the rest of your life.

    Sarah

  • http://www.ecclesialdreamer.com James

    Tony,
    I am extremely happy for you both and glad that you are writing your vows. You may find some helpful stuff searching http://hugoschwyzer.net

    Hugo is perhaps my favorite writer on subjects like these and I have found tons of helpful stuff from him in the past.

    Peace and best to you both!

    JM

  • http://www.therenaissancechristian.com/ Charles 2

    Tony – I need a little help – if you’ve got a minute.
    A couple in my church is (re)marrying each other this weekend. We’re incorporating their story and (re) commitment into our weekend gathering.

    Any suggestions? Where should I look to find appropriate things to say?
    If you want to email me, that would be great.

    Thank you.


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